Monthly Archives: July 2005

Shira Nayman, "The House of Kronenstrasse"

Christiane’s mother’s last words send her back to the old country in search of answers.

(from The Atlantic Monthly‘s Fiction Issue)

A very long one. Slow at parts, but mostly an exciting and thought-provoking adventure/mystery. Very inventive, although maybe it’s just a twist on a certain movie I never saw but about which I have heard lots; one whose title, were I to mention it, would give away or hint at parts of this story. And I don’t want to do that.
This story was very different from others I’ve read for I Read A Short Story Today because of the dramatic way the un-self-conscious character dealt with startling and unsettling discoveries, always breaking down, falling to her knees, pondering abstracts. This story has its bleak and horrific parts, but it’s neither cynical nor ironic. There’s nothing post-modern about it. In that way, that ambiguous way, it seems sort of classic.

The Mountain Goats, “Alpha Rats Nest”

Nathan Englander, "How We Avenged The Blums"

The town Anti-Semite is due for a come-uppance, but how can these little boys possibly take him on?

(from The Atlantic‘s Fiction Issue)

Excellent story. Strange and beautiful and harsh. Something like Fight Club meets Christmas Story, though, kinda not really. It’s got a when-we-were-young-and-stupid vibe to this, but I wouldn’t call it nostalgia.
There’s a battery of characters, some integral, who look like some kind of alternate-universe Justice League or A-Team. Assembled to right a wrong, however ill-equipped or wrong they may be.

In addition to a great story with lots of action, suspense, terror and some cool parts to cheer for, this was also an entrancing story to read on a line-by-line basis. It’s speckled with ancient Hebrew references and an unfolding that could be cribbed from a book of forgotten fables. Nice.

Joyce Carol Oates,"*BD* 11 1 86"

Just before his high school graduation, an orphan boy is starting to feel unspecial. Is he a loser or is something more sinister going on?

(from The Atlantic, Fiction Issue 2005)

Something more sinister is going on. Now somebody tell me, is Joyce Carol Oates sci-fi? Because the only things I’ve read by her for I Read A Short Story Today have had these sneaky sci-fi underpinnings, but, like, slowly revealed so you’re thinking, well, there’s no reason to suspect anything sinister just yet. Then, you know, boom.
(I’m thinking of the story “The Fabled Lighthouse at Viña del Mar,” which I wrote about
here.) Not that there’s anything wrong if she is all sci-fi, it’s just, I didn’t know.
I liked this story. Felt bad for the kid. His usual teen awkwardness being supplemented and reinforced by a feel that he doesn’t quite fit in. I saw the twist coming a mile away, but hey.

I bought The Atlantic‘s Fiction Issue 2005 at Borders.
I went to the highly regarded Bookhaven (22nd and Fairmount, in Philly) for the first time ever. Now I too hold it in high regard (even though the short story comp section is small and a little too close to the cat’s food dish) because I got George Saunders’ Pastoralia, which I’d been looking for forever. I also got, gasp, two books by David Eggers. Since they’re books, I’m not sure I’ll actually read them, but I’ve been thinking about it. Just experimenting. I’ll still read short stories. It’s not cheating. It’s not.

A.E. Van Vogt, "The Earth Killers"

Who dropped all those atomic bombs on America at the same time?

(from The Worlds of A.E. Van Vogt)

Van Vogt wrote this in 1951, pretty much his heyday. It’s set way in the future (1979) and got that free-thinking paranoia and nearly-reasonable technology I have come to love about this cult favorite author. Unfortunately, this one was a little too much poli-sci and not enough sci-fi. Really dragged for a while. But, it did have that classic man-is-the-real-monster they-tampered-in-God’s-domain conclusion. (Or as MST3K would say, “They peppered in God’s lo mein.”)

The Mountain Goats, “Tulsa Imperative”

Kate Selfridge, “Good Friday”

An American couple bickers on a tour stop in Ireland.

(from In/Vision)

Well, I didn’t much care for this story, but I don’t believe my going all negative on a young writer is going to do anybody any good, so I’m going to say three nice things:
1. The dialogue, of which there was plenty, was realistically rendered.
2. The description of the setting presented me with a clear mental picture.
3. The story did not choose a favorite among its bickering pro/antagonists.

Brian Booker, "A Drowning Accident"

Childhood in plague times.

(from One Story, #57)

A really cool story. Had a lot of the things I like: Interesting setting. Ambiguous era. Mostly meaningless tangents. Enormous distastrophe/loss of life (so sue me, I like disastrophe movies too). Hints of everyday menace. Touch of sci-fi (or sci-freaky).
Yeah, I liked this one. Had no idea where it was going, and didn’t agreee with a lot of the choices the author or the narrator made along the way, but whatever. I bought it.

I’d been meaning to read this for a while, rode around with it in my backpack for at least a week. (One Storys are so lightweight and compact!) On Friday I biked up to the Art Museum to check out the Live8 soundchecks (heard “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and wandered around backstage where I saw Def Leppard’s drums). On the way back it poured, like a flashflood disastrophe. The story was warped and soaked (as was I), but was dry enough today for me to read it. Later on, Lori and I hauled ass to Camden to see Def Lep on some sort of lost childhood pilgrimage, and damn if the flashflood I biked in, the one which could not destroy this story, didn’t cancel the show. Heck of a thing to find out once you’re already in Camden. Rain or shine, my ass. Armageddon it, my ass also. Did see Def Lep the next day at Live8. I don’t think I’d thought about Def Leppard in about 15 years, so whatever. Kanye West and Will Smith kicked ass. So did the weather.

Jennifer O’Connor, “Hopeful”

Sherman Alexie, "What You Pawn I Will Redeem"

A homeless drunk goes on a mission to scrape together a thousand bucks and buy his grandmother’s headdress from a pawn shop.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005)

A sweet and sour allegory-type thing about a guy who can’t help himself. His situation would be grim (rather than nearly bearable) if there weren’t smily happy people of different classes and races to help him out once in a while. In this sense, this story is a fantasy, because it seems like everybody’s looking out for each other, which, you know, if only, and this Indian’s only real adversaries seem to be himself and another Indian or two.
I liked the way the action is propelled by wandering. The narrator is a smart guy whose methods are suspect and shoddy. So he’s got this one sincere, sudden goal, and he can’t even hold on to what little money he does stumble across during the day. It’s heartbreaking but totally sympathetic. And up to and including the end, you know you’re being messed with by the author, that this reality — gritty and rough though it was — was actually a bit sugarcoated for the telling.

Today was Live8. So. Very. Tired.

Lewis Buzbee, “Five and Dime”

A single mom tries to deal.

(from Black Warrior Review, vol. 31, number 2)

A warm and smart little number about coping. Made me think of “Love, Love, Love” by The Mountain Goats, a song about people bending their morals and behaviors as a way to deal with impossible situations, or ones that seem that way. “Five and Dime” is really excellent at making its narrator sympathetic even at a low point, and more remarkable in her imperfection. Great story.
Here‘s a link. Go to it. Read it.